Not that long ago, I found myself stopped at a traffic light, across from a rather pricey development combining shopping and dining. Next to the road was a large sign, advertising for the entire place. What caught my eye was the slogan for this place: “Feed Your Appetite.” I was partly amazed, partly amused, and partly disturbed.
Of course, if what “feed your appetite” meant was something like this: “Stay hydrated and provide your body with suitable nourishment,” then all would be well. But of course no one advertises with that sort of message, and, in context, that’s clearly not what the slogan intended to communicate.
What it did mean was something like: Be lavishly indulgent in excessive and needless “consumption” of consumer products, and in excessive consumption of food and drink, in a way that causes and feeds and responds to feelings of greed.
It doesn’t mean to sate a healthy and natural hunger. It actually means to feed greed itself.
Now having fun is one thing, and a bit of sensory indulgence can be an enjoyable and even healthy experience. I know we aren’t all trying to be highly ascetic monks.
But, something felt very off about that slogan, “Feed Your Appetite.” The “feeding” and the “appetite” somehow felt very like the destructive “passions” that the old wisdom-seeking Greek writers warned about, and also very like the “thirst” that the Buddha Gotama warned of.
The “thirst” I’m talking about is most typically called “craving.” It’s the craving referred to in the Second Noble Truth. (I’m told that literally, the word translated as “craving” means thirst.)
But again, this “thirst” is not like the thirst of someone who requires hydration. It’s a maladaptive thirst which, to stay with the metaphor, might lead someone to go on drinking beyond what they need, to the point where they become sick from it.
This kind of thirst is a state bound up with greed, always seeking another pleasure or good feeling, seeking it “now in one place, now in another” (as the old texts put it), typically seeking further sensory pleasure, and generally seeking to have more and more in terms of experiences and “existence.”
The same thirst or craving is also considered the greatest cause of dissatisfaction in life.
The slogan “Feed Your Appetite” is, I think, perhaps unintentionally more honest than it means to be. I think it intends to suggest that we should arouse a strong desire for the sensory and consumerist pleasures it offers, then satisfy those desires, and that this will be an amazing experience which will make us far happier than we otherwise would be.
However, if we look at what it actually says, the slogan “Feed Your Appetite” says to feed the appetite itself. That is, to nourish and increase the appetite. And with a little understanding, we can see that the “strategy” it wants us to engage in will do precisely this. It will feed the appetite, not sate it, to say nothing of reducing or abandoning the appetite. Despite the pretense of providing happiness and satisfaction, it will increase the thirst or craving, actually increasing the dissatisfaction we experience in life.
That’s at least part of why I was somewhat amazed, somewhat disturbed by the slogan. There was hardly any subtlety or deception left in such blatant messaging. Are we so primed to respond to such prompting that subtlety and deception aren’t even necessary? Or do we see through manipulative messaging so readily that there’s no point in not being blatant? In either case, will it really appeal to us? Will its direct and open manipulation succeed because we’re already committed to what it wants us to do? Or will we find such messaging off-putting, being either too distasteful, or too honest, to entice?
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